Longtime Fox Point residents may know about the grand, glorious oak that stood on the south side of Wickenden Street in the late decades of the previous century, at the site of the current Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. Local legend says that the central courtyard of the school was designed in order to showcase, and save, that tree. The oak has since come down due to disease, according to the school’s lead custodian, Freddy Bucci. But the courtyard, also beloved, is now being restored and upgraded for use as an outdoor classroom.
With the onset of COVID, the teachers at Vartan Gregorian began bringing their students outdoors. They haven’t stopped. “It gets used constantly, all day long, two classes at a time,” commented school principal Matthew Russo about the popularity of the courtyard for such activities as science lessons, quiet reading time, read-alouds, and daily lunch. The space has become so well used, weather permitting, that teachers, students, and staff would like to see the changes continue over the long term.
Thanks to contributions from the school PTO, the late Vartan Gregorian (through a fund set up through Brown University), and the generosity of South Kingstown vendor Stone Guys Masonry, that idea is becoming reality. Last year, the school purchased sunshades and stools to make the space usable. This year, Stone Guys, used local stone remnants to rebuild two stone walls in the courtyard and construct a semi-circular, wheelchair-accessible walkway. “Now all the students will be able to use the space,” Russo commented. “That’s the most important part of the project.”
The courtyard has become a respite for students and teachers alike. “It’s a unique space,” Russo added. “It’s a worry-free environment. Kids can take off their masks. The teachers love it.” While the grand oak came down years ago, its special home lives on.
The Providence Preservation Society is putting on another virtual edition of its annual exploration of big ideas, the Providence Symposium, to be held November 8-18. This year’s theme is “Housing, Where Preservation Meets the Personal & Political.”
Housing and historic preservation go hand in hand. Some of the preservation movement’s earliest efforts were protecting the homes of prominent figures, and today’s preservation nonprofits are still largely associated with historic home markers and house tours. But as the United States faces a housing crisis, preservationists are also being called upon to help inform broader housing solutions. Providence’s housing stock is some of the oldest in the country, with almost 70 percent of available housing built before 1960. This means any plans for the equitable and sustainable future of the city must make good use of its past.
This year’s symposium explores housing in all its complexity. Housing (and access to it) is both intersectional and deeply intimate – there’s nothing more personal than where we live and build our lives. And yet it’s also fundamentally political. Together, PPS and the community will explore both dimensions and consider the ways preservation can be used to address the housing crisis in Providence and beyond. Tickets and schedule information available at PPSRI.org.
Don’t be surprised if you see an alien or robot wandering around Federal Hill or the West End next year as Westminster Street will be home to a Transformation Station from Big Nazo Labs. The West Broadway neighborhood will soon be welcoming artist Erminio Pinque and his iconic creature factory Big Nazo Labs, which is building a new headquarters, reviewed by WBNA’s Community Development Committee in 2019, between Dexter and Parade.
Big Nazo Labs shared the following project update in late September: “Construction is ongoing during the project’s Phase ll. The roof will be put on in the next few weeks and the installment of a second floor and mezzanine, stairs, and a new first floor slab will begin after that. Creative approaches in construction have been employed to respond to the challenge of being in such close proximity to neighbors on three sides of the building. Despite the limits of activity on any given day, the project is making steady progress. Everyone involved is excited to add to the vibrant developments in the neighborhood!” Visit WBNA’s website to see pictures of the construction in progress and view more details about the project.
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